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For immediate release: Aug. 18, 1997
Contact: Catherine Fitzpatrick

Two Russian Television News Crews Released In Chechnya

New York, N. Y., Aug. 18, 1997 -- Two Russian TV crews held hostage in Chechnya were released just hours before an August 18 summit meeting in Moscow between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The five crew members freed were the last journalists still held hostage in the troubled region. Among those released was Yelena Masyuk, an award-winning Russian correspondent from the independent NTV television company.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had issued several appeals to both Russian and Chechen leaders on behalf of the five journalists from the NTV and VID television companies held, respectively, since May and June. Russian and Western news agencies reported that Masyuk, and her two-man crew, were freed early today following a bloody rescue operation by Chechen security forces. One officer from the Chechen National Security Service died and six were wounded in the raid, according to Itar-Tass. The hostage-takers also suffered casualties, but few other details were disclosed by Chechen officials. Masyuk and her crew were unharmed and healthy despite spending 100 days in captivity. They were turned over to Russian authorities and flown to Moscow.

Chechen security forces apparently launched the rescue operation after the hostage-takers failed to meet a Chechen-government deadline of 11 a.m. Sunday to release the captives. After an attempt to free the hostages failed late last week, Chechen leaders issued an ultimatum to the kidnappers, threatening to attack and destroy their group if they failed to release the NTV crew.

Ilyas Bogatyryov and Vladislav Chernyayev, a correspondent and a cameraman for the Moscow-based VID television company of Moscow, were to arrive in the capital Sunday. Russian news agencies said Russian security officials played a role in their release, but offered no details. The crew, who work for the popular current affairs program “Vzglyad (Viewpoint),” were the last in a string of kidnappings of journalists in the breakaway republic since a cease-fire was declared a year ago. The trio was captured at gunpoint in central Grozny in broad daylight while on assignment.

Masyuk of NTV, cameraman Ilya Mordyukov and sound engineer Dmitry Olchev, were abducted on May 10 near the Chechen border with neighboring Ingushetia. The crew was on its way out of the republic after filming Chechen rebel leaders at a rally in Grozny when they were ambushed by six masked gunmen.

Even after the journalists were freed, it was unclear which group or groups were behind the kidnappings.

Masyuk’s coverage of Russian atrocities in Chechnya and her interviews with Chechen field commanders during the conflict helped NTV gain a reputation for hard-hitting independent news reporting.

CPJ repeatedly has defended Masyuk during a several-year period when she was interrogated by Russian security forces to reveal information about her sources. In May 1996, Masyuk and Catherine Fitzpatrick, CPJ’s program coordinator for the former Soviet Union, testified together before the U.S. Congress about the dangers to journalists in the Chechen war zone. Ten journalists have been killed in the war, including several who were killed in retaliation for their reporting. Seven journalists have been missing since 1995 and 1996 and are feared dead.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that documents and responds to violations of press freedom worldwide. CPJ’s Web site is http://www.cpj.org.

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